Bono Gives The Edge To 322 Vine…Will Hock Get The Boot?


The political “thermometer” at City Hall during Monday night’s special Council meeting indicated that the temperature was just about right for firing City Mgr. Jim Hock.

With five aldermen (Sweeney, Smith, Raspanti, Knight and Maloney) expressing significant dissatisfaction with Hock’s performance, only a procedural technicality – the posted meeting agenda described a discussion of Hock’s performance but no vote – appears to have kept Hock on the job for another few days, presumably until tomorrow night (7:00 p.m.) when the Council is supposed to reconvene with a properly descriptive agenda item.

Two members of the public in attendance addressed the Council in connection with Hock’s job performance.  One, a member of the City’s Zoning Board of Appeals, gave a scathing indictment of City’s staff’s performance (implicitly under Hock’s non-leadership) in connection with ZBA matters.  She branded certain staff work product as “trash” that reflected poorly on Hock.

But in our book the more damning indictment came from Cliff Kowalski, who lives next door to the mini-mansion at 322 Vine which has been the subject of an ongoing City regulatory process for the past few years that would give a Kafka novel a run for its money.

Kowalski could have criticized Hock and staff for being indecisive and ineffective in dealing with the building code violations and the resulting flooding attributed to that 322 Vine property.  But, instead, the heart of his complaint was that Hock and staff actively misled him and other affected neighbors into believing the City was actually going to take some action to remedy the problems with 322 Vine when it subsequently became clear they never had any intention of doing so.

Which points out a big problem with City government: getting a straight answer out of City Hall with Hock at the helm.

Just trying to get an accurate and complete understanding of this continuing 322 Vine saga is almost impossible because of the conflicting accounts of it – at least two or three of which seem to be coming from City Hall.  And almost all of this has gone on behind the scenes because Hock, like so many bureaucrats, acts like nothing good can come from telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth to the ordinary citizens – even about something as straightforward as the building code.

Nevetheless, there seems to be a consensus that the grade of the 322 Vine property was raised more than a foot above its neighboring properties during the construction of the mini-mansion.  Not only was that heightened elevation contrary to the plans for the construction approved by the City when it issued the building permit but, standing alone, it likely was a building code violation that could have earned the property owner a fine of between $50 and $2,500.  Per day.

When construction was substantially complete and the owner sought a Certificate of Occupancy (“CO”), we understand it was determined that the property’s drainage system built to accommodate the water that would be running of the substantial structure and its extensive paved areas did not conform to the engineering plans on for which the City issued the building permit.  At that time, however, a regulation on the books let the City accept an engineer’s opinion that the drainage system actually constructed was the effective equivalent of what had been approved on the plans that received the permit.

And here’s where the real intrigue begins and things start to get funky, if not a little kinky.   

If we understand it correctly, the City hired private engineer Bernie Bono, who opined that 322 Vine’s drainage system, as built, was the effective equivalent of the system provided for in the permitted plans.  On the basis of Bono’s certification, the City issued the CO and the owners moved in.  A question, however, has been raised about whether Bono may have had a conflict of interest because of services he allegedly performed for the property owner before undertaking his review of the situation for the City.

Frankly, we don’t have the space or the inclination to go into all the remaining details of what has happened since then, except to say that there are a lot of them and they involve an alternative drainage plan requiring swales whose locations and depths were both un-mapped and un-measured.  They also prominently feature Bono, Steve Cutaia (the City’s Building Administrator), Hock, and even the City Attorney – who is stuck trying to sort through the mess these others have made and then advise the City on whether, how, and at what cost the City might try to enforce its building code requirements against 322 Vine four years after the fact.

But the bottom line is that four years have gone by and Kowalski and the 322 Vine neighbors still don’t have a definitive answer from the City on what, if anything, can or will be done about this situation.

But it might not be Hock’s problem much longer.

To read or post comments, click on title.

16 comments so far

Wow! This would be for cause and void the payout?

EDITOR’S NOTE: We doubt it, given the ridiculous contract DiPietro, Sweeney and the not-so-dearly departed aldertoads gave Hock back in 2010 – which pretty narrowly limits what constitutes “for cause” termination of Hock.

This is still an opportunity for the Council to take back the City. Fire Hock and then in the absence of a City Manager fire the poorest Department Head .

It won’t take long for the people who are left to decide who calls the shot. Contact your alderman. I did two weeks ago and will do it again this afternoon.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Not quite sure we follow you, Slick, but firing Hock seems like an odds-on favorite. By “poorest Department Head,” do you mean the most underperforming or the most financially precarious? And, if it’s the former, are you offering any candidates?

The city’s failure to properly enforce the building and zoning rules at 322 Vine predates Hock and Schmidt. The construction of the property by the builder owner occupant began under Mayor Frimark which is when certain city employees chose to ignore the codes. Hock inherited the mess and did nearly nothing to hold the city employees accountable for not enforcing the building codes at 322 Vine. What this has put all those neighbors negatively affected by this house through over the last four plus years is ridiculous and more than just Hock should be fired for complete failure to do the job they are paid to do.

It is not just that the height of the lot was raised anywhere from 12 to 18 inches and thus changed the natural flow of water on the lot-a violation of Illinois law as well-but many other alleged violations of city code are present:

-a patio and a parking pad were poured that were not on the approved plans. Twice the city stopped the pouring of the concrete. Following a meeting with some incompetent city employees in the zoning department-the pads were poured. More grass taken out of the lot that could have let the water be absorbed into. Why did the city let him add these after the fact?

-The sump pump and downspouts are hooked up directly to the city sewers-why? This is a violation.

-There are 3 air conditioning units on the south side of the property. Why aren’t they in the backyard which is required of new construction?

-There is a second floor in the massive freestanding garage. This should be added to the overall square footage of the house/garage and it therefore exceeds what is allowable for the lot.

-The attic is finished and this was not on the original approved plans. This is not being taxed as finished square feet and it appears no permits were issued for the work that was done to finish the space.

-When the home was constructed the builders dry cut the stone and dust was everywhere. Despite being called the city did not come out and enforce the requirement that the stone be cut with a wet saw to minimize the dust. Why?

The list is not complete but you can see where this is going. The city was informed of these and other violations as the construction (which lasted nearly 2 years) went along but chose not to inspect, correct the violations or issue fines (lost revenue). Even if the city then relented and allowed the work not on the original approved plans to be done, did they require the 322 owner to get and pay for the proper building permits?

The other negative consequence in all of this is that it makes it very difficult for the city employees charged with enforcing the building codes to do there job on other new construction. These city employees have set a precendent that city codes are just suggestions and not rules that could be used by other builders. The question to ask is why would these city employees risk their jobs over the construction of just one house.

EDITOR’S NOTE: You’ve almost got your own post here.

As to your final question, we can offer two possible answers: 1. They knew the building code and/or their supervisor was so lax that the risk of letting 322 Vine go through as is was minimal; or 2. The “fix” was in.

It is likely option 2. What is the nature of the fix and who benefited? Time somebody in the know spoke up and relieved their conscience.

EDITOR’S NOTE: As we saw on several occasions over the past year or two, certain members of staff under Hock have been less than forthcoming. So while we hope you’re right, we’re not going to hold our breath that somebody will voluntarily don the jacket and accept responsibility for this 322 Vine fiasco.

How will Hock wiggle out of this one?

EDITOR’S NOTE: That’s probably up to Ald. DiPietro and what kind of support he can drum up for negotiating a deal with Hock “for the sake of the City” – if only so that he doesn’t start getting asked about why, about 18 months ago, he and Ald. Sweeney, voted to give an already underperforming Hock a new contract that included the ridiculous $120K severance payment.

There’s a rumor out that Ald. Bernick is resigning and won’t be at tonight’s meeting. What does that do to Hock’s situation?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Bernick would have been a sure vote for (a) keeping Hock; or (b) paying him all or a large part of the severance Sweeney and DiPietro helped Hock get 18 months ago. So, as we’ve said in the past, he adds more value with his absence than with his presence.

PW, you need to put in a “Like” button. I’m giving Bnonymous’ news a big one.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Nope, we demand more of our readers. If you like or dislike a comment or a post, you need to actually say so instead of clicking a thumb’s up or thumb’s down icon.

Hasta luego crocodilo

EDITOR’S NOTE: Maybe it’s the Spanish, but that does sound nicer than AMF.

Houk is gone. Wonderful. Thank your alderman. They have taken charge, and the citizens will benefit immensely!!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Yes, City Mgr. Jim Hock is gone and, despite the unsatisfactory “closed-session” portion of the meeting, the City Council has taken one more step toward more transparent and accountable governance of our city.

With Hock gone, it will be interesting to see what happens concerning the plight of the people who are flooding due to the immune to prosecution McMansion at 322 Vine. By process of elimination, his departure only leaves two possible suspects who could be responsible for the mess. Without Hocks desk to hide under, what will Building Administrator Cutaia do? And will City Attorney Hill be more inclined to follow the law vs. re-writing it?

It is sad to see how envious people behave. If the city approved the plans and gave a certificate of occupancy to the 322 owners, then there is nothing yo or anybody else can do. Stop harrassing inicent people. All of Park Ridge floods. The real problem is that there is a need to update the infrastructure of the sewer and water drainage system. Kowalski is a trouble maker. Everyone in Park ridge knows it. If he isn’t complaining about his neighbor, he’s complaining about some one else. He’s just mad that someone built a house that is nicer than his.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The problem is that it looks as if the City WRONGFULLY gave a certificate of occupancy to a structure that didn’t comply with the City-approved plans. Whether that was because somebody at City Hall was asleep at the wheel or because of some other more nefarious conduct, we don’t know. But somebody at City Hall should have some serious explaining to do, but all we hear is a lot of silence.

“Nicer House”? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder Mr. 322 Vine and most residents of this town would choose Mr. Kowalski’s 100 yr.+ Victorian over your oversized stone monument to yourself. But, I digress.

The flooding in question has nothing to do with the city sewer system. It is overland flooding caused by water flowing off an artificially created hill with monstrous slab of stone and concrete siting on it. As for the approved plans, if you have been following this saga, the City originally admitted that they weren’t followed and issued a violation notice only to ultimately fail to enforce it. They issued a certificate of occupancy only after you 322 (or whoever you had blog for you) snuck into the house over a holiday weekend with none of the violations corrected.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Ladies/Gentlemen: Can we agree that every person’s house is his/her castle and leave it at that?

What we believe BOTH the owner of 322 Vine and his neighbors deserve is finality on this issue: The City owes both of them a final decision, with appropriate reasons, on whether it will or will not take any enforcement action against 322 Vine. If not, the neighbors can then decide, with or without the assistance of competent legal counsel, whether they have a valid civil case against 322 Vine and/or the City.

Hasn’t the City already demonstrated that, for whatever nefarious reason, they will not take any enforcement action against 322 Vine? Why would they stat now? The only ones owed an explanation are the neighbors.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The way we see it, EVERYBODY – the owner of 322 Vine, the neighbors, and the public generally – is owed a “final” explanation of how this matter has been handled by the City.

May 7, 2012 7:35-Those of us who have followed this issue and live in the neighborhood are anything but envious. “Inicent” you say? The owner of 322 Vine has apparently lied and cheated and done god knows what else to get approval for clear building code violations all the while basically telling everyone else in the neighborhood to jog off. Why would we be envious of that.

And yes PWD every short man’s home is his castle-there should be some respect shown to the overall feel of a neighborhood. 322 Vine is in one of the older sections of town so why the city lets a builder just build whatever kind of house without some regard to how it will fit in is a disservice to us all.

It is time the city require the 322 owner to put in the swails to stop the flooding, to move the 3 air conditioners to the backyard, to tax the finished third floor space, to take out the second floor in the garage, to disconnect the sump pumps and down spouts from the city sewers and to comply with any other building code violation there is on this property. Pay the fines and pay for permits and require this property owner to do what the rest of us are required to do.

EDITOR’S NOTE: What the City “lets a builder just build” is supposed to be a function of the zoning code and the appearance commission.

If the owner of 322 Vine is legally obligated to do the things you list, then it’s up to the City to enforce those obligations or explain why it can’t/won’t. At that point the aggrieved neighbors can either accept what has occurred or avail themselves of whatever alternative relief may be available to them, including legal proceedings.

While there’s really no reason for this to get any more personal, I’d like to make a observation and ask a question.

I don’t recall Mr. “Trouble Maker” Kowalski ever attacking or making disparaging comments about the owner of 322 Vine in the papers or during City Counsel meetings. His distain has been directed at the City and it’s handling of the issue.

And now the question…
Who is the bigger trouble maker, the person who asks the City to protect them from the neighbor according to the law or the one who knowingly fights to break the law at the expense of the neighbor?

EDITOR’S NOTE: One who knowingly breaks the law invites whatever enforcement efforts any interested or disinterested party wishes to instigate. Our problem with this situation, however, is that it looks like the City government that is supposed to regulate these matters, prevent the lawbreaking, and remedy it when it occurs, has botched it’s basic duty.

Which takes us back to the comment you made earlier PWD, “What is the nature of the fix and who benefited? Time somebody in the know spoke up and relieved their conscience”.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The first order of business is to determine whether it was just ordinary garden-variety government negligence. If not, then the idea that there might have been a “fix” comes into play. Or the neighbors can hire their own attorneys and pursue whatever rights and remedies the law gives them.

Leave a comment
Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>


(optional and not displayed)